Food Offered to Idols

SYNOPSIS – Daniel and his three Jewish companions refused to participate in the religious rituals of the World-Power – Daniel 1:14.

Augustus - Photo by Nemanja Peric on Unsplash
Daniel was confronted with a predicament upon arrival in the imperial court. If he consumed the food and drink provided by the king, it might cause his ritual defilement. Possibly, he and his Jewish companions wished to avoid eating meat classified as “unclean” under the Levitical food regulations. Or they may have objected on moral grounds to drinking wine since the consumption of wine did not cause ritual impurity under the Levitical code - (
Daniel 1:5-17Leviticus 11:45-47). - [Augustus - Photo by Nemanja Peric on Unsplash].
  • (Daniel 1:8, 12) – “But Daniel laid it upon his heart not to defile himself with the delicacies of the king, nor with the wine which he drank, therefore, he sought the ruler of the eunuchs, that he might not defile (ga’alhimself… I pray you, prove your servants ten days, and let them give us vegetable food, that we may eat, and water that we may drink.
However, there are difficulties with either proposed explanation. First, wine was not something that caused ritual defilement. Second, in his comments, Daniel made no reference to the dietary regulations of the Torah - The interpreter must assume this was the issue. Third, the Hebrew term rendered “defile” (ga’al) in this passage is not the same one rendered “unclean” in Leviticus - ga’al appears nowhere in the Pentateuch.

Furthermore, the Hebrew term pathbag more correctly means “delicacies,” not “meats.” The royal provisions would have included animal flesh; however, that is not the point in the passage.

And Daniel expressed no concern about drunkenness from imbibing the king’s wine. The Torah does not forbid the consumption of wine, although the Old Testament does discourage drunkenness.

The ancient Babylonian religious customs suggest a different problem was in play, and one more in accord with how the book of Revelation applies the passage. The issue was not ceremonially unclean food but participation in the idolatrous rituals of Babylon - (Revelation 2:10, 2:14, 2:20).

Daniel objected BOTH to eating food and to drinking wine from the “table of the king.”  Doing either could cause “defilement” - (“Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the king’s dainties or with the wine which he drank”).
Since wine was not ritually “unclean,” the concern was somewhere else. The stress in the passage is on the source of the food and the wine - The royal table.
Daniel proposed a “test” - For “ten days,” he and his friends would only eat vegetables and drink water; afterward, their Babylonian keeper could compare their appearance with that of the other young men who did consume the royal provisions - (“Let our countenances be looked upon and the countenance of the youths that eat the king’s delicacies”).

Idols played a key role in Babylonian religious rituals. It was believed that a god was present in his or her image within its temple. Such images were provided with daily meals of food and drink. The king provided the required foodstuffs for a god’s “meal,” and no one else present could eat before the deity was finished “consuming” it. The remaining food and drink were distributed for consumption at the royal table. Thus, the king’s provisions were linked with the idolatry of the Babylonian temples – (Joan Oates, Babylon, London - Thames and Hudson, 1986, p. 174-175).

The book of Revelation alludes to this story in its letter to the church at Smyrna. The congregation was to expect persecution - “You may BE TRIEDand you will have tribulation TEN DAYS.” The clause alludes to the story from Daniel about eating the king’s food. The Greek verb rendered “tried” in the Septuagint version of Daniel (peirazō) is the same one found in the Greek text of the letter to Smyrna - (Daniel 1:14, Revelation 2:8-11).

Christians at Smyrna were “blasphemed by them who say they are Jews and are not, but instead are a synagogue of Satan.” Consequently, some believers found themselves “cast into prison.” Nevertheless, those who remained “faithful until death” would receive “the crown of life and NOT BE HURT of the second death.”

This “blasphemy” or “slander” referred to false charges leveled against Christians before civil magistrates, probably for the refusal to participate in the imperial cult. The passage in Revelation also echoes the story in Daniel about the three Jewish exiles who were cast into the “fiery furnace.” They had been “slandered” before Nebuchadnezzar by their Chaldean enemies for refusing to render homage to an image that the king had erected - “Certain Chaldeans came near and ACCUSED the Jews” - (Daniel 3:8-30).

The passage in Revelation includes a wordplay from the Septuagint version of Daniel. The Greek verb rendered “accused” is diaballō - (“To accuse, slander), a term closely related to the name “Devil” - diabolos.  Thus, in the letter to Smyrna, “ACCUSATIONS (diaballō) of them of the synagogue of Satan…behold, THE DEVIL (diaboloswill cast some of you into prison.” The Chaldean “wise men” had accused the three Jews before a Gentile king, just as the Jews in Smyrna were accusing believers before pagan Roman authorities.

The three companions remained faithful and were “cast” into the fiery furnace - (“Be it known, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you set up”). Then, Nebuchadnezzar saw them “walking in the midst of the fire, and THEY HAVE NO HURT.” They were miraculously delivered, then promoted to positions of rulership in Babylon.

The same story is echoed in Revelation. The “Beast from the earth” caused fire to descend from heaven to deceive the “inhabitants of the earth” to cause them to render homage to the “image of the Beast,” and to take its number - “sixty-hundred and sixty-six.” Likewise, Nebuchadnezzar caused men of every rank to render homage to his great golden image, which measured “sixty cubits high by six cubits wide” - (Daniel 3:1-7, Revelation 13:11-18).

Similarly, Jesus rebuked Christians at Pergamos that tolerated deceivers who taught believers “to eat things sacrificed to idols and to fornicate” - “the doctrine of the Nicolaitans.” Likewise, in the letter to Thyatira, the church was reprimanded for allowing a false prophetess “to seduce my servants to fornicate and to eat things sacrificed to idols.” In Revelation, “fornicate” is metaphorical for idolatry - (Revelation 2:12-17, 17:218:318:9).

The issue in Daniel was not ritually “unclean” food but participation in idolatry. Likewise, in Revelation, first-century Christians were to avoid participating in the idolatrous worship of “Babylon,” that is, Rome. “Fornicate” and “eat meat offered to idols” are metaphorical terms for the participation in the rituals of the imperial cult.

Likewise, believers of later generations must refuse to render homage to the idolatrous demands of end-time “Babylonthe Great Whore,” when she commands one and all to worship the “Beast” and its “image.”


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